The Record – Front Page
By Jeff Hood

March 25, 2000

ACAMPO – Donald Filomeo looks to the northeast, beyond his green pasture dotted with purple and yellow wildflowers, and motions toward his neighbors beyond Jahant Road. “They’re all hungry for money,” the 74-year-old Filomeo grumbled. “I can use it, but I don’t need it.”

Filomeo, who once earned royalties from natural gas pumped from his Dustin Road property, wants nothing to do with Lodi Gas Storage, a company hoping to pump natural gas into the depleted gas field when prices are low and withdraw it when prices are high, selling at a profit.

He’s among a vocal group that opposes the project, saying it would disrupt and possibly blight a quiet rural area northeast of Lodi.

Some of his neighbors, however, see the storage project as a new source of income. In some cases, the money is substantial, leading to a conflict that is pitting neighbor against neighbor and sometimes even splitting families.

Lodi Gas Storage is offering the 65 owners of the land over the 1,450-acre underground field a $2,000 signing bonus and $317 per acre in the project’s first year, with annual payments escalating up to $1,260 an acre in the eighth year, according to Vice President Scott Wilson. After that, annual payments go up to 4 percent per year. The contracts would be up for renewal in 50 years.

The potential income amounts to millions of dollars for property owners in the storage are, a reason more than 30 have signed a petition – originally circulated by Lodi Gas Storage – asking the California Public Utilities Commission to approve the project at or after its April 6 meeting.

Jahant Road resident Bob Munyon, who raises poultry and fish on 16 acres, said he signed the petition Sunday. Underground gas-storage fields, he said, might keep energy prices more stable, which would benefit businesses and potentially contribute to the nation’s security in a crisis.

There’s a lot of hysteria and misinformation that has been promulgated by a few of the people at these public hearings,” Munyon said. “I’m interested in possible savings (on energy costs) down-stream. If we can save 5 percent, it would be a good deal.”

Munyon is one of few vocal supporters of the project. Tightlipped residents said it’s probably because the potential income is dividing neighbors and extended families.

Those above the storage field stand to make thousands of dollars a year, while their in-laws and cousins living adjacent to the pipeline route or compressor facility – who won’t make a dime – cite concerns such as safety and declining property values.

“I feel sad about this, because this is causing a lot of problems in the area,” said 78-year-old Lillian Remmick, who lives on the storage area. “The money isn’t worth that much to cause disruption or unhappiness among people. It’s getting to the point where neighbors don’t talk to neighbors. “People are not trusting anymore.”

Most of the tension could go away as early as April 6 at the Public Utilities Commission hearing. The commission has the final say on whether the project proceeds. One of the commission’s administrative-law judges recommended this month that commissioners deny the project, saying it doesn’t benefit the community and could endanger the region’s increasing reputation for growing wine grapes. The fact that only one person – Lodi electric utility Director Alan Vallow – spoke in favor of the company at public-participation hearings was cited in the proposed decision.

But Lodi Gas Storage officials are hoping the recent petition convinces the PUC commissioners that sentiment isn’t one-sided.

And while administrative-law judges’ opinions carry great weight with commissioners, they aren’t rubber-stamped. For instance, the CPUC last month granted Pacific Gas and Electric Co. a $453 million rate increase – slightly more than half the $822 million requested, but nearly twice the $243 million recommended by an administrative-law judge.

“There were a number of people at the hearings that spoke out in opposition,” Wilson said. “There are also a lot of people who are in support, but in hearings like that, they tend to be silent.”

The company has not raised its offer to storage-field residents or anyone else since the administrative-law judge’s proposed decision, Wilson said. The terms were reached in October, he said. But they have raised their offer considerably since they first made their proposal. The initial offering was for a flat $70 payment per acre for a 99-year lease, or less than a dollar an acre per year.

Back at his house, Filomeo doesn’t think much of the negotiations. “All I see is a pack of lies,” Filomeo said. “Downright lies.”